This post reviews Marc Snyder, “An Evaluative Study of the Academic Achievement of Homeschooled Students Versus Traditionally Schooled Students attending a Catholic University” (EdD Diss: Nova Southeastern University, 2011).
Snyder, who recently received his doctorate, here tries to fill in at least a bit the enormous gap that exists in our understand of Catholic homeschooling. He rightly notes in his lit review that very little research has been done on Catholic homeschoolers. His dissertation looks at every homeschooled student at the relatively young and very orthodox Ave Maria University, founded just a few years ago by Catholic philanthropist Tom Monaghan (the Domino’s Pizza mogul).
Ave Maria, being a very conservative Catholic school, appeals to very conservative Catholic families, many of whom homeschool. About a third of its student body were homeschooled for the entirety of their secondary education. Snyder’s study compares the ACT and SAT scores and GPAs (Grade Point Averages) of Ave Maria’s homeschooled students with those of its students who attended public and Catholic schools.
The dissertation begins with a strong lit review covering the history of homeschooling, various popular methods of instruction, legal issues, common criticisms of homeschooling, and issues related to homeschoolers and college. His review of previous studies of homeschooler achievement in college is especially good. Snyder also gives an interesting account of Catholic higher education, emphasizing the recent controversies over the Vatican’s attempt to reign in independent-minded schools. Ave Maria was founded as an effort to counteract the liberalizing trends in the nation’s established Catholic universities.
Next Snyder explains his actual study. He used as his subjects every single student at Ave Maria enrolled between the fall of 2007 and fall 2010 who had attended all four years of high school in the same kind of school–public, Catholic, or homeschool. He basically just got all of the data on these students from the registrar’s office–SAT, ACT, and GPA. Since he used the scores of every student in each category we’re dealing with a population, not a sample, so we don’t have to worry that his data is not representative of Ave Maria at large. It is. He had 408 students total, 137 of whom had attended public school, 142 of whom had attended Catholic school, and 129 of whom had been homeschooled, a remarkably balanced group! To Snyder, the only real failings of his approach are that it doesn’t account for the different kinds of homeschooling his subjects might have experienced or the kind of education his subjects may have had prior to high school.
For the ACT, the homeschooled group scored higher than both the public and Catholic school groups. The homeschooler mean score was 26, while public and Catholic were 24.22 and 24.53 respectively. Deviations from the mean were comparable for all groups, so this isn’t a case of a few outliers inflating the overall score (though Snyder does note that the student with the highest ACT score of 35 was homeschooled).
For the SAT the story is similar. Homeschoolers won, with a mean score of 1864.94. Catholic school students came in second with a mean score of 1761.04, and public schooled kids were last with 1706.76. Again, a homeschooled student had the highest score overall (2360).
And how about college GPA? Well, homeschooler mean GPA was 3.14. Catholic was 2.88. Public was 2.66. Homeschoolers win again, and when you look at the students who had the very highest GPAs, homeschoolers totally dominated. Snyder found this hierarchy to be consistent from freshman to senior year, though it did wane every year a bit. Interestingly, when it came to specific courses in the college core program and in the students’ majors, the differences in GPA were less pronounced. Overall GPA difference was statistically significant, but core and major GPA differences, though they existed, were not large enough to be statistically significant.
Snyder is very careful throughout his study not to attribute causality in interpreting his results, but he does allow himself a brief indulgence near the end. After noting that study after study has consistently found these slight advantages among homeschooled college students, he suggests, “homeschooling in secondary school may be a cause of high levels of academic achievement of homeschooled students in college.” (p. 110) Having said that, he goes on in successive pages to reiterate that his study only establishes correlation, that “It was not used to show that a certain type of secondary schooling causes a higher or lesser degree of academic achievement.” (p. 114)
In his limitations section at the end Snyder notes what I was thinking all along. These results are valid only for Ave Maria and cannot be generalized to other institutions. Why not? He doesn’t say, but let me give my own hunch as to why homeschoolers who attended Ave Maria outperformed their Catholic and Public school peers.
Top graduates of Catholic schools who want a Catholic education will typically not choose Ave Maria. Why not? It’s a very young school that, like Patrick Henry College, has struggled to get accredited and just doesn’t have the cachet of a Notre Dame, Georgetown, or Boston College. Ditto for public school students. There are hundreds and hundreds of higher prestige schools, religious and non-religious, public and private, that a high achieving public school graduate would be more likely to attend than Ave Maria. But high performing Catholic homeschoolers are drawn to Ave Maria just like high performing Protestant homeschoolers are drawn to Patrick Henry. These families have cultivated a temperament that places less value in things like worldly success or prestige. They are willing to sacrifice these things in the name of fidelity to a Spiritual vision. From a worldly point of view it seems misguided for a kid with a 35 ACT score or a 2360 SAT score to waste her or his talent at a rinky dink school like Ave Maria when she might have gotten into Yale or Stanford. But many devout homeschooling families don’t think like this. Many Catholic and public school families, however, do. I personally know, and I bet my readers do too, many parents who would be extremely disappointed if a child with scores like these chose such a low prestige school as Ave Maria.
That self-selection bias is why I think the homeschooler scores were higher at Ave Maria. The higher achieving kids at Catholic and public schools went elsewhere. To test my hunch here we’d have to do what Snyder recommends at the end of his study–replicate it in many other sorts of institutions. Snyder’s approach is wonderful. His use of population-wide data rather than a weak convenience sample such as is so common in studies like this provides an excellent model for others who might try it at other institutions.